How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kings and Queens and Literature

I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s interested in the line of English royalty! They play such an indispensable role in our past, after all—we Americans have to look back to English history to trace our heritage beyond 1607 Jamestown. (I know we’re a melting pot, but I’m focusing mainly on our language, first founders, and some other national traditions.) And besides the history, so many great stories are bound up in these royal lives, appealing to our sense of adventure and relational drama.

The Hanoverians, I think, were heavy on the relational drama. Hardly anyone seemed to get along in this family, and genuine insanity was not unheard of (George III—unable to rule for nine straight years at the end of his reign, plus at various other periods of his life—is the prime example, but you’ve got to wonder about the others …). Something else that stands out about them is that they were very German. George I was three-quarters German; his grandmother was a daughter of James I. After that, the Hanovers, consistently marrying Germans, received more and more German blood—no English—until Elizabeth II’s father married an English lady.

And so, on to the monarchs and the British literature produced during and about their eras:

The House of Hanover
George I (r. 1714-1727). The Act of Settlement (1701) had decided that these descendants of the first Stuart king would get the crown upon Anne’s death, because all the other choices, including her half-brother James Stuart, were Catholics and therefore unacceptable. Parliament really began to wield power during George I’s reign (and the monarchy was never quite as powerful after that) because he didn’t care for England and spent as much time as he could in Germany. As I mentioned in my previous post, 1715 saw the first Jacobite uprising when James vied for the throne, but it was put down. Scott’s Rob Roy deals with this. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) was published during this time, as was the contrasting Gulliver’s Travels by Swift (1726).
George II (r. 1727-1760). Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1747-48); Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews (1742) and Tom Jones (1749). This was also the time that Kidnapped and The Last of the Mohicans (when Americans were British subjects) was set.
George III (r. 1760-1820). George II’s grandson. Literature that is still well-known today proliferated during these years. Here are just a few of the great writers: Samuel Johnson (a great literary critic, among other distinctions); Oliver Goldsmith (The Vicar of Wakefield, 1766); Richard Brinsley Sheridan (a hugely significant playwright); Laurence Sterne (Tristram Shandy, 1759-67); Maria Edgeworth (Castle Rackrent, 1800); Frances Burney (Evelina, 1778); Robert Burns (poet).
George IV (r. 1820-1830; Regent since 1811). I saved Jane Austen’s novels for George IV, since she published them when he was, technically, though not officially, the ruling sovereign. The iconic Regency era was 1811-1820, and all six novels were published then. Other writers include: Sir Walter Scott, the most popular author ever, for his time; William Wordsworth; Lord Byron; Percy Bysshe Shelley; John Keats; Mary Shelley (Frankenstein, 1818).
William IV (r. 1830-1837). William IV was the brother of George IV. Charles Dickens got his start in 1836 with The Pickwick Papers.
Victoria (r. 1837-1901). The niece of George IV and William IV. Anything I can say about the literature of Victoria’s era is going to be understated; for all practical purposes, it’s an infinite mountain. Charles Dickens, George Eliot, William Thackeray, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, Robert Louis Stevenson, the Bronte sisters, Wilkie Collins, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Hardy, Victor Hugo (he completed Les Miserables in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands), George MacDonald, H. G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Oscar Wilde.
Queen Victoria, Wikimedia Commons

The House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Edward VII (r. 1901-1910). Edward VII inherited his father Albert's names. The only reason this list is smaller is because the Edwardian era was itself smaller! Beatrix Potter’s stories, The Scarlet Pimpernel, (Baroness Emma Orczy, 1905), A Room with a View (E.M. Forster, 1908), Peter Pan (1904), The Wind in the Willows (1908); A Little Princess (1905).

George V, Wikimedia Commons

The House of Windsor
George V (r. 1910-1936). He changed the monarchy's family name in 1917 because, after WWI, German names weren't exactly desirable. G.K. Chesterton (his first Father Brown mystery came out in 1911); A.A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh, 1926); Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway, 1925); Agatha Christie (her first detective novel was published in 1919); Dorothy Sayers; P.G. Wodehouse … and I’d better stop, because I bet what you’re doing now is not reading but skimming these lists and gaining a significant impression of the vastness of British literature.
Edward VIII (r. 1936). He abdicated because he married a divorced woman. No doubt there was something published during the eleven months he was king, but I haven’t searched it out yet.
George VI (r. 1936-1952). Edward VIII’s brother. He was the subject of the movie The King’s Speech. I think it’s significant that he saw Britain through a World War, just like his father did. Literature: The Hobbit (1937); The Space Trilogy (C.S. Lewis, 1938, 1943, 1945); The Screwtape Letters (1942). I’m sure there are more books that are great to other people, but I take less interest in them, including George Orwell’s writings (creepy Nineteen-Eighty-Four was published in 1949).
Elizabeth II (r. 1952- ). Hurrah! We made it to the current sovereign. Here are some of the most recent great British works: The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956, so actually they span Elizabeth’s and her father’s reigns); The Lord of the Rings (1954-55, though Tolkien wrote it between 1937 and 1949, much of it during WWII); The Silmarillion (published in 1977, but worked on during Tolkien’s entire life); Watership Down (1972); Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964); James Herriot’s short stories, starting in 1970.

And there you have it! A ride through recent British kings, queens, and literature. I’m not promising a third post on the subject (literature was scant before Shakespeare, and I’m going to be very busy), but I hope this was fun and informative!
What is your favorite era of British literature?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Kings and Queens Made Clear

Before I begin, I want to say that my prayers and tears go out to our persecuted brethren in Iraq. May the blessings of God’s love be theirs, no matter how far away any comfort appears. May He protect and deliver them.

I tried to post yesterday, but my internet connection was out. And, technically, my post wasn't ready anyway, so it was a good excuse. : )

My brain must look like a dizzying swirl of thoughts. I’m editing England Adventure (Six Cousins, Book 2) once again before I send it off to another reader or two. I’m spending every spare moment researching for my own England adventure, which begins in two weeks. On top of those things are various and sundry other necessities that need attention. But I’m in high spirits and learning many things about God’s faithfulness.

The focus of this post today is one item that I’m learning about—ostensibly for the sake of my trip, but really, it’s something I’ve always wanted to understand—the chronology and genealogy of all the kings and queens of England. I read so many things about the UK and its history that it would have been nice long ago to connect all the crowns. It seems now that I have at least a working knowledge of who preceded whom, when they reigned, how they became monarch, and other tidbits about their personal lives and the important events they took part in.

Although it’s not scholarly, I’m finding the book The King and Queens of England: A Tourist Guide by Jane Murray to be my gateway to clarity. It has a chapter on each monarch, starting with Elizabeth II and working backward, and tells their stories plainly and entertainingly, with a focus on their personalities and relationships with relatives and courtiers. It’s rather irreverent … not even Queen Victoria escapes … but the author makes sure that every aspect of their personality, good and bad, is explained, so I feel it’s balanced. There’s no disguising that these people were flawed human beings—who, for whatever reason in God’s design, ruled one of the most powerful nations in the history of the world.

I hope to make this next section as interesting as I can, because it’s fascinating to me: Here is a list of the kings and queens, when they ruled, and what literary gems were written about or produced during their times (because, you know, everything on this blog and in my mind has to tie back to literature). But I’m only going as far back as Henry VIII, since that’s how far I’ve gotten in the book, and I’m still fuzzy on the kings in the hundreds of years between John I and Henry VII. In this post, I’m only going to the last of the Stuarts; the Hanovers will have to wait till next time.

Elizabeth I (Wikimedia Commons)

The Tudors
Henry VIII (r. 1509 –1547).
Edward VI (r. 1547 –1553). The prince in Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper (1881).
Mary I (r. 1553–1558).
Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603). Many of Shakespeare’s plays. Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590 and 1596). Scott’s Kenilworth (1821).

The Stuarts
James I (r. 1603–1625). James was the Tudors’ cousin. Shakespeare’s plays. Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605 and 1615).
Charles I (r. 1625–1647). The Duke of Buckingham, Charles’s friend and chief minister, is a major player in Dumas’s The Three Musketeers (1844), set at the beginning of Charles’s reign. The end of his reign is marked by the English civil war, which features in the sequel to The Three Musketeers. Charles I was executed in 1649.
(Oliver and Richard Cromwell, Lord Protectors, ruled in this interim.)
Charles II (r. 1660–1685). Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667). Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678).
James II (r. 1685–1688). James was Charles’s younger brother, and because he was a Catholic there was controversy about his reign. The Monmouth Rebellion, created by Charles’s illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth who disputed with James II, is the backdrop to Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood (1933) and Richard Blackmore’s Lorna Doone (1869).
William III and Mary II (r. 1689–1702 and 1689–1694). Mary was James II’s Protestant daughter, and the Dutch William of Orange was her husband (and cousin) who jointly ruled. (England had made a law that only Protestants could rule, and William and Mary usurped James II; he went into exile.)
Anne (r. 1702–1714). Anne was Mary’s sister and James II’s second daughter.

Charles I (Wikimedia Commons)

James Stuart (1688–1766) was James II’s son by a second marriage. Being a Catholic, England rejected him. His supporters were called the Jacobites (I always wondered who the Jacobites were), and Scotland was several times the scene of their battles with the English for James’s sake, and later for his son, Bonnie Prince Charlie (1720–1788). Scott’s Rob Roy (1818) dealt with the first Jacobite Rising in 1715, when James “III” tried for the throne after Anne’s death. His Waverley (1814) dealt with the Jacobite Rising of the 1740s, and Stevenson’s Kidnapped (1886) was set in the aftermath.

And of course I couldn’t go without mentioning G. A. Henty’s wonderful historical novels! He wrote about many important events from these eras—too many to name.

Can you think of other literature that I missed that was written during or about these times? Were you ever confused by what English monarch was reigning during certain historical events?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review: Mary Barton

Mary Barton
“Oh! I do think that the necessity for exertion, for some kind of action (bodily or mentally) in time of distress, is a most infinite blessing, although the first efforts at such seasons are painful. Something to be done implies that there is yet hope of some good thing to be accomplished, or some additional evil that may be avoided; and by degrees the hope absorbs much of the sorrow.”

Elizabeth Gaskell wrote that as the narrator of her first novel, Mary Barton. She began writing it after her baby son’s death in 1845 to release her grief, pouring into it her passion for the plight of England’s lower working class and her clear-sighted, Christian viewpoint as to how they and the factory owners could reconcile their differences. This is a story of Manchester’s hardest years, from 1839–1842. The narrator showcases the harm that people render each other because of selfish ignorance, while she cries out for each side to understand one another and work together in light of the Golden Rule. I don’t know if Mrs. Gaskell’s specific plea was heard, but the message is so true I would hope that her readers benefited. Since that is not the only message of her “social novel” (a special genre of Victorian novels exploring social ills), I do feel sure that something virtuous and hopeful penetrated them, even if they weren’t in a position to do anything about the factories. She evidently wished that something good would come of her only son’s death.

Quite a few people died in Mary Barton—as is common in Mrs. Gaskell’s novels (and Victorian times), but the overall tone of this one was far more melancholy than Wives and Daughters, for example. Life itself was bleak. Yet she treated each death with the sympathy of one who understands. Although many of her experiences went into this novel, the impression I am left with is that this was a catharsis from her particular tragedy. Only the ending gives us a glimpse of life without death to overshadow it. I tell you, it’s a good thing I was naturally happy this June, busy with plans, because otherwise I might have been depressed reading this! (There—you have been warned.)

But it is a powerful, well-told, and exciting story, one not to be missed by Gaskell and Victorian novel fans. It even contains a murder mystery which turns Mary Barton, the heroine, into one of the rare early female detectives. (Who was the first, I wonder? It could have been Mary!) Mary is a “sweet, faulty, impulsive, lovable creature” who belongs to the working class in Manchester and must work as a dressmaker to feed herself and her father, the only members of her family left. Being very pretty, she attracts a lot of male attention—including Harry Carson’s, a wealthy factory owner’s son. She welcomes it because she is tired of being poor. She’s virtuous and wants to marry him, but she doesn’t realize her danger—that wealthy men do not generally marry poor women, no matter how much they “love” them. Meanwhile, her father John Barton, the character Gaskell herself was actually the most interested in, is oblivious to all but his efforts on behalf of the factory workers’ union. Bettering their lot consumes him. Jem Wilson, a longtime family friend, is in love with Mary, and gently persists in loving and guarding her despite her rebuffs. The stories of other characters, friends of Mary’s, weave in and out of the main plot.

In the crush of sorrows and struggles that make up the story, Mary grows by repenting of her faults. She soon must draw up courage for a terrible task, and with God’s help, finds what she is looking for in more ways than one. Who else will triumph? And … who will fall?

Have you ever read Mary Barton? Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my favorite novelists, and I’ll have to write a post about why I like her one day! Have you read anything else by Gaskell?

Friday, August 8, 2014


I finished my Regency dress today!

These are a lot of photos, I know ... but it was the only way I could think of to celebrate and commemorate the occasion. : ) I've dreamed for years of having my own Regency dress, but I never thought I could sew one myself, until now. Many thanks go to my friend Ms. Geneece of Sew Many Treasures, because without her I couldn't have done this!

What kind of historical costume have you always dreamed of wearing?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Black Hills of South Dakota

Before I get into my regular post, I just want to acknowledge that today, up until this evening, is the ninth of Av. It’s a day of mourning and fasting for Jews because both the first and second Temple were destroyed on this very day millennia ago. May Yeshua/Jesus return soon, comfort all who mourn, and restore His Kingdom to Israel.

This summer I and my spare time have been focused on preparing for two different trips … one past, one (oh, happiness!) still to come. I think back with relish of that past trip last month, when I was gone from July 5 –19. Every moment of those fifteen days was something I want to remember. My flight on Saturday morning saw me awake before 3:00 so that I could get to the airport; I had a layover in Salt Lake City before arriving at my final destination in Rapid City, South Dakota, shortly before noon local time. Before I dropped into bed that night, I had been awake for twenty hours, which I really think is a new record for me (there was the time I was up until 5:00 a.m. at a slumber party, but I don’t remember how long I had been awake the preceding day!). A new experience, that; I don’t think I’ll forget how being awake for so long on a tiring journey feels—the heaviness, the bouts of irrationality, the determination to stay up until every last bit of excitement has been squeezed from the day. When I finally laid down, my body still tried to keep me conscious because I had been telling it to do so for hours. (Maybe this detail sounds trivial, but I never know when such sensations will serve me in a piece of writing.)

Have any of you been to Salt Lake City? I don’t know about the actual tangible streets and buildings, but from the air, the land surrounding SLC is fascinating. I wish I’d had my camera. The valley, perfectly surrounded by desertish, rather short mountains, looks, not really forbidding, but pleasantly desolate and … other-worldly. It reminded me a bit of the marsh Frodo and Sam cross in The Two Towers, because, like that marsh, you get to see the landscape with a bird’s eye view. Except in the Salt Lake valley, the sun was shining, the colors were bright, and you can tell the wetlands are bursting with life. See this Flickr photo and this aerial photo. There are maze-like waterways and ponds everywhere, mostly blue but sometimes greenish, verdant marshy spots, and sandy beaches. These all swirl together like paint that needs to be mixed, while the set-apart Great Salt Lake is deep and blue and vast. Its backdrop of barren mountains made me think of Noah’s Flood receding around Ararat.

Sweet clover. I could see that from the plane!
Western South Dakota, like much of the West in my experience, reminisces about wild days gone by. Most of what I saw from the plane was countryside: tall hills black with pine trees, rolling hills alternately grass green and rich yellow green. This summer had been unusually rainy. What is that yellow down there? I wondered. Soon after I landed and joyfully joined my friend and her family, I was enlightened: sweet clover. So much sweet clover was blooming yellow that the air outside Rapid City’s little airport smothered me in the smell of honey. It’s the strongest scent I’ve ever smelled outdoors, stronger than pines in the forest and fish by the lake.

We spent all day Saturday driving in the Black Hills. It was unforgettable: the roads, no matter their size, twisted and wound up and down and around the low mountains, always presenting a beautiful view. The small towns all had their share of old Western style, most strikingly the Hills in their background. There were such intriguing spots as Needles Highway, at the top of which were the Cathedral Spires, huge, tall, narrow rocks spiking into the sky; Sylvan Lake, which they showed in National Treasure 2; Wildlife Loop Road, where we saw donkeys, bison, and antelope; and, of course, Mount Rushmore. I snapped a picture of Mount Rushmore as soon as my friends pointed out that we could see it … it was very hazy, but I was so excited! I’d been dreaming of seeing Mount Rushmore since I was a child. Once you get to where you can see the monument, the clarity is amazing. The faces are way up there in elevation, but they’re so gigantic you can see small details, as if you were looking at them face to face. The juxtaposition of manmade and nature is like the ultimate Photoshop job.

Can you see me way up there in the middle?

The Eye of the Needle
Can you see the faces looming out of the rock?
How about these faces?
Well, that summarizes my one-day sightseeing trip. I love mountain, or mountain-like scenery; it’s timeless and thus I feel connected to the era when white settlers were just exploring it, or even before then when no one was around at all. How do you feel about mountains? Do you enjoy stories set in the mountains?